A Practical Approach to the Paleo Diet, Part 1
Editor’s Note: We’ve invited Adam Farrah to write a series of articles here breaking down and describing all things Paleo diet because we’ve noticed an increasing interest in Paleo by our growing community. Adam is a noted expert in the field and we’re excited to have him join us to share with us what this diet/lifestyle is all about.
The Paleo Diet is getting more and more press and exposure lately. It’s a great diet. It works for improving performance, fat loss and a myriad health problems. Once you understand the basics, it’s also pretty easy to do. In this series of articles, I’ll explain the basics of Paleo and talk about some of the finer points, modifications and nuances I’ve learned in the nearly 7 years I’ve been working with the diet in one variation or another.
In this first post, I’ll talk about the fundamentals of Paleo and give you my own ideas about the best way to classify different foods and think about them within the greater context of Paleo. The classification of foods that I use is something I developed on my own and not something you’ll find anywhere else. I’ll explain why a little later.
What’s important to understand is that Paleo is really a broad diet philosophy as opposed to a set and rigid diet – or worse, a fad diet. Yes, there’s the book “The Paleo Diet” by Loren Cordain, but there are many other interpretations of Paleo and variations based on the “Hunter-Gatherer” template. If you want to understand the context of Paleo as a diet genre, check out my post “There Are MANY Different Paleo Diets.”
What’s the Point of Paleo?
The basic premise of the Paleo diet is that our genes have remained virtually unchanged for a very, very long time. While there is some disagreement on the numbers, the idea is that we spent about 2.5 million years as a species eating nothing but meat, vegetables and fruit (when fruit was available) and little else. It was only about 15,000 years ago that we started to move from hunting and gathering to agriculture. This is when grains and dairy became widely available.
Paleo theory says that our digestive systems and bodies are much better adapted to meat, fruit and vegetables than to things like grains, dairy, processed foods and the pesticides and hormones that get into our modern food. If you stop and think about the fact that two of the most common food sensitivities are to gluten and casein (a protein in cow milk), it doesn’t seem completely unrealistic that there could be some truth to this idea.
Below is a diagram from my book, “The Paleo Dieter’s Missing Link,” that shows visually what I’m talking about in terms of a food timeline. Obviously, the diagram isn’t totally to scale.
The main point of Paleo is to give our bodies the foods that they evolved to eat and thrive on. The payoff being improved health, performance, longevity and superior digestion.
What’s On a Paleo Diet?
So, basically, Paleo is meat, fruit and vegetables. Pretty simple, right? And, it actually IS simple to a great extent. Some people get confused because they just don’t know enough about food in general, but many others have trouble because of all the information circulating online and in the various Paleo books that are out there. Everything you’ll find on Paleo – other than the stuff I write – will classify foods in two categories – Paleo and Not Paleo. I decided that this system was limiting and instead I choose to talk about foods in terms of Paleo in five categories.
Understanding What’s Paleo, What’s Not and What’s in Between…
Here’s how I classify foods in terms of a Paleo diet. You’ll likely note that some of the foods in category two – like raw dairy and brown rice – are NOT what are considered Paleo foods by most. I actually have a number of reasons for including these foods in my version of Paleo and I’ll talk about those reasons in an upcoming installment of this series.
Here are the five categories of Paleo foods:
1) Foundational Paleo Diet Foods – Base Your Diet on These
These are meats from animals fed their appropriate diet (cows fed grass, for example), wild-caught fish and vegetables and fruits (preferably organic).
2) Foods of Early Agriculture – Foods to Consider Adding if Well-Tolerated
Eggs from well-raised chickens, raw dairy from well-raised cows and/or goats, organic brown rice and properly prepared gluten-containing grains. Things like fresh ground organic coffee are also included in this category.
3) Paleo Foods to Use Sparingly
These are starchy Paleo foods like yams and sweet potatoes best left to post-workout and concentrated Paleo foods like coconut milk, dried fruits, raw nuts and seeds, nut and seed milks and raw honey.
Foods in this category are things like coconut oils and the various fish oils that can be used to round out the fat content in the diet, protein powders (if necessary, well tolerated and of high quality), things like fiber supplements and certain nutrient supplements.
5) Modern Foods – Avoid These
This category holds most everything else like processed foods, processed grain products, soy products, beans and legumes, roasted nuts, sugar and high-fructose corn syrup products. Alcohol is also in this category.
A Graphical Representation of the Five Categories of Paleo…
Those are the basics of what Paleo is. At least, that’s my version. In the next post, I’ll get into more of the details of the diet and explain how to make it work for you in a practical way.
Editor’s Note: What are your thoughts on the Paleo diet? Have you tried it, or are you thinking about it? Let us know, and ask any questions you’d like to have answered by Adam in the comments below! (you can read more in Part 2 here)